Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Taking the Right Stand

There has been a renewed emphasis by Charedi leaders in their opposition to the internet. This time specifically attacking Orthodox Jewish blogs. Most recently it was in the form of an editorial entitled ‘It’s Time to Take a Stand’ by Rabbi Pinchos Lipshutz in his newspaper, the Yated (republished on Matzav.com.)

The fact happens to be that I actually agree with some of the points brought up by Rabbi Lipshutz. There are far too many instances where lines of propriety are crossed. There are far too many instances where rabbinic leaders are unfairly disparaged. This is wrong.

As I constantly say, religious leaders who dedicate their lives to serving Klal Yisroel do not deserve to be disparaged – even when we feel they have made mistakes. Even if those mistakes are perceived as big ones. They clearly believe that they act L’Shem Shomayim. That should be respected under all circumstances.

None of this should not be news to anyone who reads this blog regularly. My only real differences with Rabbi Lipshutz and those he speaks for is in how to deal with the problem. They believe in banning the entire enterprise:

Our response to them should be uncompromising. We have to be able to exercise enough self-control to shun their writings.

I believe in embracing the good and throwing out the bad. And if done properly an Orthodox Jewish blog like mine can be a resource for good. It can act as a place to vent frustrations and as sounding board for possible solutions.

While I agree with some of what Rabbi Lipshutz says I take issue with the following:

But after being exposed to a steady barrage of gossip, depicting one religious person after another as a lawbreaker, one’s attitude naturally becomes poisoned. Malicious speculation regarding the motives of rabbis and other community leaders, as well as entire groups, casting them as hypocritical or irresponsible, compounds the outrage.

On these blogs, religious leaders are consistently vilified. They can do no good. Regardless of what they do, their actions are twisted and portrayed as evil. When that fails, their motives are questioned and they are portrayed as corrupt, willing tools of strongmen…

So, instead of improving themselves and raising their own standards, they tar all frum people with one brush, dismissing an entire group as schemers, crooks and molesters, people lacking mentchlichkeit and decency.

While I agree with him that is some cases there is the maliciousness he talks about- not all Orthodox Jewish blogs are created equal. There are some – like mine – that decry malicious attitudes towards rabbinic leaders. But to the extent that he sees the very mention of Charedi wrong doing by Orthodox Jewish blogs as the cause of this problem - I would strongly disagree. I would call this ‘blaming the messenger’.

True a steady diet of evil in the Frum world coming out of Orthodox Jewish blogs can cause an unfair generalization about the entire community. But it isn’t the messenger that is the problem. Nor is the message condemning the behavior and asking why it exists at all among Frum people – the problem. Nor is the problem suggesting that there may be some institutionally flawed thinking that contributes it.

The real problem is the actual steady flow of religious people who commit these public indiscretions. When a blogger like me addresses it, it has long ago become public knowledge. The negative impact has already been made. It is left for us to make a public Macha’ah against such behavior – instead of trying to sweep it under the rug as though it never happened.

For the entire Frum community to ignore it publicly is to be contribute to the Chilul HaShem. It is as though we deny that a problem exists in the Frum world - when it is plain for all to see that it does. That can all to easily be interpreted as some sort of religious tolerance for this behavior. Especially when after being quiet about the crime and the criminal great public efforts are made to help them asx though they were innocent victims and in some cases heap praise upon them.

There are those who say that if not for Orthodox bloggers, the Charedi world would not know about these problems. That by talking about it – we are adding nothing to the discussion and instead are only guilty of Lashon Hara. The problem is that if we are ever going to get our house in order, we have to make sure we are fully aware of every single time it happens. And to be aware of who did it and how prominent the guilty party is. It is only when we realize the extent of the problem that then can we begin to try and deal with them as a community.

Ironically by inference - Rabbi Lipshutz makes a very interesting point:

Are there problems crying out for solutions in our community? No question. We have to motivate the people of fine character, steeped in Torah and mussar, to rise above the masses and join forces to find common ground and productive solutions. We should empower them to offer constructive criticism. We should support these people and motivate them to work for the klal without fear of being maligned for their actions.

Rabbi Lipshutz realizes that there are problems. Perhaps he even agrees that the problems are many of the same ones discussed here. But perhaps he also realizes that as great as current rabbinic leaders may be we have do not yet have the people that can do the job. We do indeed need to motivate ‘people of fine character’ to find these ‘productive solutions’.

In light of the fact that these problems still exist – and seems to be growing I would agree. Rabbi Lipshutz’s goal is my goal too. We need to find and motivate people to do what’s necessary to get the job done. Because what has been done until now has changed nothing.